Ask the Experts–Freight Planning Approaches to Comply with MAP-21

What does MAP-21 Require for Freight Planning and How Can I Develop a
MAP-21-Compliant Freight Plan?

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), enacted in 2012, made a number of changes to improve the condition and performance of the national freight network and support investment in freight-related surface transportation projects. Specifically, it required the Secretary of Transportation to encourage each state to develop a comprehensive State Freight Plan and establish a State Freight Advisory Committee.

The U.S. DOT has provided Interim Guidance to states on both the development of statewide freight plans and the establishment of state freight advisory committees (Federal Register Volume 77 No. 199, October 15, 2012). And while freight plans and freight advisory committees are not required by MAP-21, many states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) are interested in revising existing or developing new freight plans, as projects that are listed on a State Freight Plan are eligible for a higher percentage of Federal matching funds. Before starting, however, it is important to understand what MAP-21 requires of State Freight Plans and what is recommended by U.S. DOT.

Freight Plan Element    MAP-21 Requirement    U.S. DOT Recommended
Describe how State Freight Plan supports national freight goals        
Describe economic context (industries, supply chains)         
Describe freight policies, strategies, performance measures        
Identify freight transportation assets         
Report on conditions and performance         
Develop freight forecast         
Describe freight trends, needs, issues        
Identify strengths and weaknesses         
Develop freight investment decision-making process         
Inventory bottlenecks and develop freight improvement strategies        
Develop implementation plan, including funding and revenue sources         

What if I already have conducted freight planning activities?

Some states and MPOs have already developed stand-alone freight plans, mode-specific plans, goods movement studies, corridor plans/studies, or strategic plans that can be leveraged to meet MAP-21 requirements and/or U.S. DOT guidance. The following are the most common steps required to update existing freight-related plans and studies to MAP-21/U.S. DOT standards:

(mouse over each element to learn more.)

What if I’m starting from scratch?

If starting a state or metropolitan freight plan from scratch, it is important to take a systematic approach to understanding freight transportation needs and developing strategies to address them. Such an approach allows states and MPOs to comply with MAP-21 and reflect U.S. DOT guidance while addressing the most critical needs on their own systems. The framework to developing freight plans, shown below, allows states and MPOs to identify the key elements of their freight transportation systems and how they relate to one another. Each element, described below, is supported by a freight-specific data collection strategy and stakeholder involvement process.

(mouse over each element to learn more.)

These five elements are supported by:

  • Freight-specific data collection efforts that combine “traditional” data collection activities (i.e., FHWA FAF data, truck counts, origin-destination analyses) with more innovative strategies like accessing real-time truck data.
  • Structured outreach that combines the best elements of “traditional” public outreach and private sector engagement. A key element of our approach is to reach beyond traditional public and private freight stakeholders to those that have not been fully engaged in regional planning efforts, such as private-sector infrastructure developers, financial advisors, and warehouse/distribution center developers. In many cases, these communities have financial, operational, or other benefits or interests in the development and/‌or outcome of freight investments, and play critical roles in funding, financing, and implementation activities.

James J. Brogan is an Executive Vice President of Cambridge Systematics, Inc. and manages the firm’s Freight Transportation Business Line. He specializes in statewide and metropolitan freight planning and operations and has helped more than 15 state DOTs, MPOs, and regional coalitions across the country more effectively incorporate and address freight issues within their planning and investment activities. He was the Principal Investigator for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 8-53 – Integrating Freight into Transportation Planning and Project Selection Processes (published as NCHRP Report 594) and the Principal Investigator for the National Cooperative Freight Research Program Project 5 – Framework and Tools for Estimating Benefits of Specific Freight Investment Needs (published as NCFRP Report 12).